'Superbugs' Could 'Dwarf' AIDS, Flu

Public health officials are becoming increasingly alarmed by the growing number of illnesses caused by antibiotic-resistant staph bacteria.

The bacteria are hard to treat and can be very aggressive. They can also be deadly.

On The Early Show Thursday, Dr. Stephen Baum of Beth Israel Medical Center in New York told co-anchor Hannah Storm, "We have staph organisms on our skin and in our noses all the time. Generally, we live in peace with them, and they don't do us any particular harm. Occasionally, if there's a break in the skin or if somebody has an underlying skin condition like eczema, staph will gain access to inside the skin and under the skin and cause infections."

Baum said such bacteria are no longer being confined to hospitals.

"(They are) making their way into the general population. Hospitals tend to be incubators for what's in the community and concentrate the infection in one place. But this is now becoming an increasing problem within the community.

"I think drug resistance to bacteria and viruses is going to be perhaps the biggest infectious disease problem in the coming decades, dwarfing AIDS and possibly even dwarfing a terrible outbreak of influenza, because this will be a daily occurrence as we go into the next couple of decades.

"Whether it's epidemics or individual cases, it's going to become a much more common event."

A big factor behind the problem, Baum said, is the overuse of antibiotics, so, "I think patients have to stop asking their physicians for antibiotics if they don't need them and physicians have to stop prescribing them if they don't think the patients need them."

Baum also warned that, "There are not nearly enough new antibiotics being developed. There are very few antibiotics in the pharmacological pipeline, so the bacteria are definitely becoming resistant faster than we're able to provide new antibiotics."

Better hygiene is "absolutely" needed to help battle the bugs, Baum pointed out.

One Chicago family knows all too well about the tragedy such superbugs can cause.

Everly Macario lost her year-old son, Simon, to Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, known as MRSA for short.

Perfectly healthy one minute except for a mild case of asthma, he died within 24 hours of becoming ill.

To see Smith's report and the interview with Baum, click here.